It is our critical collective need to be able to think the supposedly “unthinkable”, and imagine the “unimaginable”, that is driving the merger of futures and design practices. Futures provides a big-picture context and sense of the stakes for design work, and design brings concreteness and communicative effectiveness to futures. Together they can do far more than simply convey propositional content about possible futures; they enable otherwise schematic, affect-free, “flat” images of the future to be fleshed out, thought and felt – in a word, experienced – in a more profound way. But the notions of unthinkable and unimaginable are just the extremes of a normative spectrum: dystopian (unthinkably bad) at one end, and utopian (unimaginably good) at the other. As important for our collective well-being as it is to engage these edge-cases, part of the offer of this union of design and futures thought/practice is to move beyond the long-standing and limited utopia/dystopia binary. We need to be able to think, and feel, the “possibility space” of alternative futures in more dimensions – ones not pre-designated (often thought-stoppingly) as desirable or undesirable. To do this, we can use Jim Dator’s four generic images of the future (GIFs): continue, collapse, discipline, transform. Dator’s framework, which groups scenarios into sets of narratives based on the trajectory of change that they express, can be – and for many years at HRCFS, actually has been – deployed generatively to map and explore the “four corners of possibility space”, providing a way to range imaginatively and yet systematically towards the outer limits of possible futures, before proceeding to home in on probable and preferable ones. The meat of the lecture lay in examining a whole series of projects which exemplify the marriage of design and futures work. My focus was on those efforts I knew best, that is, in which I was personally involved –
The Research-Practice Gulf
There is a great gulf between the research community and practice. Moreover, there is often a great gull between what designers do and what industry needs. We believe we know how to do design, but this belief is based more on faith than on data, and this belief reinforces the gulf between the research community and practice.
I find that the things we take most for granted are seldom examined or questioned. As a result, it is often our most fundamental beliefs that are apt to be wrong.
In this talk, deliberately intended to be controversial. I examine some of our most cherished beliefs. Examples: design research helps create breakthrough products; complexity is bad and simplicity good; there is a natural chain from research to product.
Don Norman was recently named by Business Week as “one of the world’s most influential designers.” Although he is not a designer, his studies and books on design theory coupled with his extensive academic and industry experience help companies produce enjoyable and effective products and services. Norman brings a systems approach to design, arguing that great design must touch every aspect of a company. He is well known for his classic books “The Design of Everyday Things” and “Emotional Design” “The well-rounded product,” says Norman, “will enhance the heart as well as the mind, being a joy to behold as well as to use.” He is the co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, professor at Northwestern University and has been Vice President of Apple Computer and an executive at Hewlett Packard. His next book. Living with Complexity, will be published in September 2010. here he argues that the quest for simplicity is misguided because complexity is both good and necessary: our lives are complex, and our tools must match the tasks we do. What we need are things we can understand and master, for once mastered, even complex-looking things are simple.
She was certainly not the first person I’d heard this from. I hear this almost everywhere I go where there are people talking about social media, and I feel that it is time that I rise up against it. In fact, I did, right there and then. I grabbed the microphone from her grasp and said, “I am not a brand.”
She grabbed the microphone back and started clarifying that she really, really, really is a brand and brands are awesome … and the more she went on, the more I thought: I am not a brand. I wanted to whisper it, but that would have been creepy.
Just to be clear on this thing I am not, maybe I should define my understanding of personal branding. A personal brand is a little package you make of yourself so you can put yourself on the shelf in the marketplace and people will know what to expect or look for when they come to buy you. For example, Coke is a brand. When you see Coke, you expect a dark brown effervescent sweet drink that is always going to taste like … Coke. McDonalds is going to sell you inexpensive, fast food. The Ritz or the Four Seasons is going to sell you a luxury experience. BP will now be known as the brand that destroys the costal ecosystem of the southeastern United States.
And yes, authors sometimes have these “brands.” Nicholas Sparks is going to sell you a roman … love story, excuse me … where someone dies of cancer/similar disease at the end. V.C. Andrews will sell you something awesomely insane and creepy. Dan Brown will sell you a series of puzzles, facts, and clues leading to the unveiling of a huge secret. Tom Clancy will sell you something with a submarine or some kind of large weapon in it. You get the idea. I don’t know if any of the above actively works on his or her “brand” … (well, V.C. Andrews won’t, since she died in 1986 having written only eight books—her official ghostwriter has written over sixty more in her name since that time, which is pretty impressive work).
I am not saying that it is a bad or dishonest thing to try to sell your work. It is not. What I am saying is that I am tired of the rush to commodify everything, to turn everything into products, including people. I don’t want a brand, because a brand limits me. A brand says I will churn out the same thing over and over. Which I won’t, because I am weird.
So there we were, grappling for the microphone, polar opposites in every way. And then I noticed that when people on the other side of the table were talking, the woman pulled out her phone and started reading messages. She didn’t listen to what the others were saying.
Imagine you see a vehicle coming toward you on the highway from miles away. Is it a motorcycle with one headlight, or a car with two? As the vehicle approaches, the light splits into two, and you see it’s the headlights from a car. But when it was miles away, your eye couldn’t tell if it was one light or two. That’s because at that distance your eye couldn’t resolve the two headlights into two distinct sources of light.
The ability to see two sources very close together is called resolution. It’s measured as an angle, like in degrees. For example, the Hubble Space Telescope has a resolution of about 0.00003 degrees. That’s a tiny angle! I’m simplifying here a bit, but you can think of this as saying that two stars farther apart than that are seen as two objects; if they are closer together, even with Hubble they appear as a single object.
Since we measure resolution as an angle, we can translate that into a separation in, say, inches at certain distance. A 1-foot ruler at a distance of about 57 feet (19 yards) would appear to be 1 degree across (about twice the size of the full Moon). If your eyes had a resolution of 1 degree, then the ruler would just appear to you as a dot.
If you’re creative and technical, you’re unstoppable.
Robert Rodriguez speaks the truth.
Filed under, ‘need to cross-stitch onto pillow asap’; right after ‘get technical’.
Oh, and ‘get creative.’